San Francisco Giants welcome preseason pressure


Woe is me! The sky is falling! We’ve hit an iceberg and we’re going down!

From all of the reports out of Scottsdale, you’d think the San Francisco Giants were done for the season, instead of simply going through the annual ritual in more or less the same fashion as they do every year. Yes, Hunter Pence is sidelined for a few weeks, and yes Angel Pagan’s back is acting up, as backs are want to do, but good grief, Charlie Brown, take a look around at every other camp in baseball and you will see a comparable litany of issues.

I took pen in hand only three days ago to address what seemed to be of paramount importance: rotation issues and a general sense of malaise associated with only winning one-fourth of your games. Now at 5-12-1 for the spring, those areas of concern are seemingly being blown out of proportion as fans are lamenting that, based on past spring training records, San Francisco is in seriously bad shape. Past spring training records? Give me a break.

You’d think this was a last-place team, coming off of a mediocre campaign, the way some fans are whining. These same fans will point to me as one who wears orange-tinted glasses, when I remind them that the Giants are current World Champions, and that they got there with almost the same group of individuals that are currently in Scottsdale. These aren’t tinted shades-these are clear and functioning at a 20/20 vision.

Since the Orange and Black use pitching as their biggest weapon, shall we begin with a look at the rotation? Ryan Vogelsong’s effort on Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers (4.2 IP, 0 runs allowed), was dandy, but Vogie is not part of the rotation, which currently sports a collective ERA above nine. The pitching staff as a whole was perched just above an earned run average of six, the highest in baseball. 

Aug 29, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (32) throws to the Milwaukee Brewers in the first inning of their MLB baseball game at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

But here’s the deal. If we just take the 18 games played and multiply the number by nine, we have 162 innings having been pitched, which means that the vast majority of those innings were hurled by prospects, simply because someone has got to do it.

From non-roster invitees (eleven of whom are pitchers), to nine more 40-man roster guys trying to land a spot, there are at least twenty pitchers throwing innings in spring training who will not accompany the team out of the desert. These guys are in camp for countless reasons, and they are facing players who are desperate to show they belong.

It’s a jungle out there in the desert. As for the starting five and that hideous nine-plus figure? Sure, I wish it were closer to Spring, 2014’s 20-plus innings to begin the year, without an earned run by the rotation, but it’s not. What’s more important is that it does not matter. Each guy out there has a personal agenda that involves the minutiae of preparing for a season.

Madison Bumgarner is the same pitcher this March that he was last October, except 140 days, more or less, have passed. Is he supposed to have somehow gone backwards from where he was last Fall? Why should the guy responsible for the most dominating World Series in history, have to go out in March with any kind of expectations? Answer: He doesn’t.

Tim Hudson has been working with his release point, and Tim Lincecum has been refining the off-season tinkering that he and his dad, Chris, have been working on. Matt Cain is rehabbing from both ankle and elbow surgery, so he is simply out there trying to get his rhythm and mechanics back in sync, and Jake Peavy is trying to regain that form that made him so invaluable, in between his lackluster performance in Boston last year, and a similar showing in the playoffs.

It adds up to five individuals, all former All-Stars, with two former Cy Young Award winners (Lincecum and Peavy) who have clearly demonstrated that they are capable of taking care of business.

All five Giants starters are All-Star pitchers, and two have earned Cy Young Awards.

They do not have to all perform at All-Star levels for the team to be successful; they just have to go out there every day and keep the team in the game. And for the love of Mays, they don’t need the baseball world making snide comments about their spring training results.

You know that chins have been wagging since Bruce Bochy felt compelled to make a public statement about the team’s level of sloppy play. Specifically, he addressed the team’s .235 batting average and the eighteen errors, only three of which were committed by the  starting eight position players. Defense is a huge contributor to the Giants’ success and nothing that takes place in spring training is going to detract from that.

And sure, that .235 average is plenty anemic, but there are still some Halogen bulbs mixed in there too, such as Casey McGehee‘s .440 average, or Brandon Belt‘s .357 with three home runs, seemingly poised to resume his offensive fireworks that were so dazzling for the first seven weeks of last year’s season.

Mar 6, 2015; Surprise, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants third baseman Casey McGehee throws to first against the Texas Rangers during a spring training baseball game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

So we have a broken forearm, a sore back, some higher-than-what-might-have-been-expected ERAs, and an annoyed manager. We also had Los Angeles Dodgers fans poking fun at San Francisco fans the other day, by posting the spring training standing on social media, showing the Dodgers at the top and the Giants at the bottom.

A cadre of LA fans were enjoying the moment, when it became clear that the tenor of the post had changed, as Giants fans universally hooted in derision at the need for Dodgers fans to see their team at the top of standings-any standings! That stems from the Dodgers being unable to succeed in October, the time when San Francisco shines the brightest.

The point of the anecdote is to simply clarify which team is best on paper and which team is best on the field. The Dodgers have the best team money can buy, and they are once again poised on the threshold of success, whereas the Giants are ranked seventeenth in the latest MLB Power Poll.

Do I think the Giants go home and beat their heads against a wall at the thought of being undervalued? No, I don’t. I think they are keeping in mind, at all times, that date that has been set aside to present the players with their World Series rings earned last October.

The rings are tangible proof that they are currently the best in baseball, and if you want to whine that they may not stay that way, that’s your prerogative. I am content to allow the process of spring training to continue in its current vein, because there is no other format available.

What it boils down to, is that there is only one team in spring training with the kind of pressure on them like the Giants have, and since this is the third time down this path in the last five springs, I am making the rash assumption they know what they are doing. And anyone who wishes to draw conclusions-as erroneous as they may be-from spring training play, is welcome to do so.

Just remember to draw your conclusions in pencil, in case you have to erase them and start all over again.